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"Help! I Don't Want to Hurt My Child"

by Jeri Carr

Have you ever felt so angry and frustrated at your child that you wanted to hurt your child or felt afraid that you would hurt your child? Or maybe in anger you yelled and screamed at your child as hard as you could, so much so that your throat became sore? Have you ever said mean and hurtful things to your child that you wish you could take back? Have you ever looked at yourself and thought, what kind of a monster am I becoming? Or said to yourself, "Gosh, I'm scared. I don't want to hurt my child. I need help!"

You are not alone. We sometimes tend to think that good, loving parents never feel out of control or never get so angry that they could harm their child. But the sad fact is, these things happen much more often than we realize, and otherwise gentle, caring parents sometimes make very harmful mistakes.

Many things can trigger the anger that often precedes thoughts of abusing or actual abuse. It can happen when an innocent baby has colic and has been crying for hours. It can happen when a toddler refuses to stay in his bed at night. Sometimes it happens when a toddler throws a tantrum and won't quit screaming and the noise fills his parent's head and his parent feels overwhelmed. "Shut up!!" his parent yells.

There is NO good reason to abuse or hurt a child. Children need unconditional love, compassion, and understanding. They need to be listened to and allowed to cry and express their emotions. But knowing all this, and believing it with all of one's heart, does not prevent a parent from hurting their child.

How can a parent stop? Every situation is different, and some situations are more dangerous than others and need immediate intervention, but here are some ideas that have worked for some parents:

*Ask for help from someone you trust. Let that person hold you accountable. When you feel like hurting your child, call that person or another friend.

*Try to pinpoint the situations in which you feel the most angry and plan ahead. If possible, try to avoid those situations. For instance, does your child have tantrums more often when he is hungry? Keep quick snacks on hands and make sure he eats enough and has enough to drink. Are there things that might help him calm down such as playing with play dough or blowing bubbles together? Perhaps you need to lower your expectations; don't expect too much of your child for his age.

*Watch for signs in yourself that you are reaching your limit. If you are getting angry at your child for bothering you while you are on the computer, perhaps it's time you considered taking a break from the computer.

*Ask yourself if you are really angry at your child or if your anger is actually from some other situation that is happening in your life. Do you have any toxic relationships in your life that are bringing you down?

*Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat enough healthy food and drink a lot of water. Get adequate sleep--new moms should try to sleep when their baby sleeps.

*When you feel like you are about to yell or hurt your child, try one or more of these things: pray, splash cold water on your face, turn on some music, sing a song, quote to yourself scripture passages or favorite quotes dealing with being peaceful and gentle (perhaps write these out and put them up around your house as reminders), take a time out, go for a walk, hug a pillow, yell into a pillow, take several slow, deep breaths, count to 10, put yourself in your child's shoes.

This article was first published on Suite101.com on March 24, 2000.

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